ROAD TRIP: GRAND CANYON + ZION NATIONAL PARK
Oh the perks of having a teacher schedule! Nick and I planned a road trip for our Spring Break this year. Again, I feel so lucky that I get to have time off AND that Nick has the same time off; it makes planning our trips so easy. As we brainstormed, we knew we wanted to do a National Park: Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon. These were all options of parks we had not visited. The decision was pretty much made for us when we tried to book a campground in Yosemite and unfortunately everything was booked (shocker!). Grand Canyon and Zion seemed like the next best option so it was time for my favorite part: PLANNING!
I had my eyes on renting an Escape Campervan which comes with a mini kitchen and bed (it's a lot cooler than how I am describing it). But after doing the math, it was cheaper to just rent a car and pitch a tent considering the car rental price and gas. These are the kinds of things I consider to help us save a couple bucks here and there. If you want a camping experience and don't have the essentials, I encourage you to check them out.
The next thing to consider was the weather. We live in sunny SoCal so I don't own a lot of cold weather clothing. We bought new jackets and shout out to me for being able to fit into kids size clothes that are cheaper! I got this Uniqlo Padded Parka that kept me warm in 20 degree weather at night. Nick and his brother Cesar bought new Columbia puffer jackets and when we got to our first location, they realized they forgot the jackets!! (Doiii!) It was a bummer at the moment but a pretty hilarious joke the rest of the trip. Luckily they packed enough layers to beat the cold. if it wasn't for the extra thermals, flannels, scarves, fleece sweaters and pants they packed, they would've frozen their butts off. Nick also bought a new Suisse mummy sleeping bag rated 5 degrees, which kept him warm all night, and I borrowed my coworker's Marmot sleeping bag, which also kept me nice and toasty (thanks Val!). Now the fun part!
Grand Canyon National Park
Our first stop was the Grand Canyon.We reserved a site at Mather Campground and we were happy with everything about the site. The campground was only 5 minutes away from the local market (which had $1.50 12oz microbrews!) and 5-8 minutes from the South Rim Visitor Center. Our specific campsite didn't have as many trees as we usually like, but the lack of trees allowed the sun to warm us up during the day. The only downside was that there was a pipe break, which meant all water was turned off. Yup, that meant 3 stinky campers!
|Mather Campground, Juniper Loop 141|
When we arrived, we unloaded and spent an hour or two setting up camp. Once we finished we were anxious to see the canyon (and too lazy to cook), so we drove to Tusayan, the nearest town, picked up some Wendy's and drove back to the Grand Canyon to have our dinner with a view. FYI, if you've never had a Wendy's crispy chicken sandwich, drop what you're doing immediately and go pick one up (after reading this post, of course!)
|View from the South Rim Visitor Center|
|Cesar getting the fire started on the 1st night|
The next morning, Nick made us some bomb breakfast and, believe it or not, he makes better breakfast than I do....wait, why am I letting him dictate this?! Anyway, after the yummy breakfast we had to wash the dishes and you wouldn't believe how cold it was and how quickly your hands turn to ice in 20 degree weather. BUT, Rule #1 of our camping trip was: No Whining!! So I kept it to myself because I needed to prove I was a "real camper" to Nick, whatever that means (he's Mr Big Camper Guy all of a sudden). Later, we headed out to the Bright Angel Trail, one of the most popular trails along the canyon. We didn't hike for too long, only about 30 minutes, then we stopped to have the sandwiches I made for us and enjoyed the breathtaking view. Quite frankly, no camera will ever capture just how amazing the view is, and certainly not my iPhone 7. Although Nick's LG fish-eye lens comes close...wait, that was him again!
|View from our picnic spot|
|Doesn't the background look fake?!|
|Nick wanted to point out that this tree trunk looked like it was pointing|
On the second day, we drove a little farther from our campsite to check out the Kaibab Trail. Believe it or not, the views of the Grand Canyon on this trail were even more spectacular than the previous trail we had been on. We must've hiked down about an hour to get to the Ooh Aah Point, and boy was it an "oooh aaaaah" moment when we got there!
|I mean, c'mon!!|
The whole way down the trail we realized there was a dark cloud making its way towards us. After hanging out at this point for a bit, snow started sprinkling down.
|Cesar felt the storm coming and took this picture|
|Look Ma, I hiked the Grand Canyon in the snow!|
|Moose in the Grand Canyon|
Lower Antelope Canyon
Next we headed off to Page, Arizona for our tour of Lower Antelope Canyon. There are only 2 companies that take you on tour and you can only visit the canyon if you book a tour, as it is on Navajo territory. When you book your tour, you also pay a Navajo fee. I tried to book through Ken's Tours since it was slightly cheaper, but they were all booked for the day and time we wanted, so make sure you plan ahead! Certain times of the day are considered to have better lighting and those time slots tend to book fast. Originally I wanted to visit Upper Antelope Canyon since that is where you find the famous light beams, but again, the best time for that is between 12-1pm and those times were all booked. We ended up booking the 12:15pm tour of the lower canyon with the Dixie Ellis' company and they did not disappoint. Our tour guide, Briana, was so mellow with such an easy going personality that I thought she was the definition of "positive vibes only". She took us on an easy, 1-hour tour with a group of 15 diverse people, some of them visiting all the way from Germany. The pace was comfortable as I didn't feel rushed walking through the canyon. Briana also pointed out all the famous shots and took nice pictures of groups. At the end of the tour they even gave us free water so, yes, I carried my hydration pack for nothing. I can't tell you just how incredible this place was. If you visit any place in the near future, I hope it's this one.
|Stairs leading down to the canyon|
|Cesar looking up at Baby Groot. Do you see it?|
|A woman with her hair blowing in the wind|
|Endless swirls everywhere!|
|Amazing views no matter where you look!|
|Here's Bruce, the shark : )|
Note: Parts of Arizona are in a different timezone. As we were driving over, the timezone unexpectedly changed to an hour ahead and Nick started speeding thinking we were not going to make our tour. Fortunately, Page is in Mountain Standard Time so the time change didn't affect us (phew!). Also, don't forget to tip your guide!
Horseshoe Bend is only a 15 minute drive from Lower Antelope Canyon, convenient right? From the parking lot, you take a short 20 minute hike to get to the Horseshoe Bend. There were plenty of tourists, but sooner or later you are able to get a quick shot with nobody in your picture. We didn't explore much besides the few pictures we took, maybe because we were all hungry and ready to go.
|Being on the edge really freaked me out!|
We then drove another 2 hours to our last location, Zion National Park. When reserving a campground, we found ourselves with a similar problem to Yosemite with sites being booked. We ended up booking a campsite at Zion Ponderosa Ranch that my friend Jackie recommended. Here you can rent a cabin, a conestoga or western wagon (that seem like a super cool experience), glamp, or pitch your own tent. They have several activities you can enjoy: pool, jacuzzi, mini golf, basketball, tennis courts, pool tables, and a restaurant (which I wasn't a fan of). Ultimately, we decided that this location is a perfect stay for a family in the summer. We felt the drive to Zion, although beautiful, was a bit longer than we would've liked. If we visit again, we will plan even sooner to get a campsite inside the park or maybe even splurge to stay at the Zion Lodge. Another option is staying in Spingdale and using the town's free shuttle system to make your way into Zion.
|Barn with activities, a TV, and a fire place|
There are so many trails to explore at Zion and with only 2 full days, we had to narrow it down. On our first day we decided to take the shuttle up to Weeping Rock. The trail was paved at a slight incline but only a 20 minute walk to this view:
The park is very busy at this time of the year (and summer) so no vehicles are allowed on the road. Their shuttle system is super convenient and fast-- unless you take it from the visitor center, which can be up to a 45 minute wait. However, we decided to skip the shuttle and walk to the start of our next trail and I'm pretty sure we made the right decision.
|Leading these dudes to the Kayenta Trail|
We started the Kayenta Trail at The Grotto shuttle stop and hiked up to the Upper Emerald Pools. The trail was sunny at times, but it was mainly in the shade created by big beautiful mountains. Once we reached the Upper Emerald Pools, we came back down to the Lower Emerald Pools, which conveniently ends at the Zion Lodge shuttle stop. The entire hike was gorgeous and it took us about 3 hours to complete- including stops for pictures, pedestrian traffic, and stopping to eat.
|On the Kayenta Trail|
|Upper Emerald Pools|
|Photo op along the way? Yes please!|
|So many views|
Our next big decision was choosing between the famous Angel's Landing Trail or the Narrows. As a group, we decided we weren't sure when we would visit Zion again and we just couldn't pass on the experience of the Narrows. Now, this is a trail where you walk through water and during springtime it isn't ideal because the weather is under 70 degrees and the water is freezing from the snow that is still melting. To fix the issue and still be able to comfortably walk the narrows, we rented gear at Zion Outfitter located at the visitor center. We rented a package that included a dry bib, boots, socks, and a wooden stick for only $45. I think this price was absolutely worth it-- I stayed completely dry and the boots were comfortable. Sure, the boots were not waterproof so our feet were wet the entire time (and just a bit cold), but considering we were walking through water and rocks, our feet never hurt nor did we get any blisters.
We hiked down the narrows for about 3 hours and it was well worth it. The farther down we hiked, the smaller the crowds got and it felt like we had this magical place all to ourselves. Not so fun fact: I tend to freak out about unnecessary things so when we got to our picnic spot I started overthinking our surroundings- there's no people! What if it gets dark on us? What if we get lost and can't get out? Yea, I'm that person. I kept it all to myself because of our #1 rule: No Whining! I eventually calmed myself down. I couldn't eat my sandwich from all the nerves, but I calmed down. My point is, if you are claustrophobic, be careful as you enter the narrows and maybe don't go too far in. But trust me, it was worth it!
|Look at this!|
|A picture from our little picnic spot|
|The Pops in the Narrows|
Overall, this trip was DEFINITELY one for the books! I'm happy to report that this week long road trip was a huge success and the only things that went wrong were not having running water (easily fixed by purchasing more gallons) and the butane gas being too cold to use for the portable stove some mornings. Oh yea, and Nick and Cesar forgetting their jackets is still a hilarious fail! The camping experience was so much fun! I'm also happy that we purchased a national park pass which gets us into every national park in the U.S. It was only $80 so once we visit another park, it pays for itself. I guess we'll just have to hit the road again soon since I'm officially a certified camper and we're big National Park guys now! Til next time...